Da’at Tevunot -- The Knowing Heart
Section 1, Chapter 12
Before we could explain how G-d interacts with us while He's hidden and
how we're to serve Him in that context, we'd first have to clarify
something fundamental about His ways in the world. We’d actually touched
on it before but we’ll approach it now from another angle .
G-d seems to work within certain paradigms in this world, and to exhibit
certain “rules and regulations” (as Ramchal puts it) which the Torah
attributes labels to. So He’s termed "merciful, gracious, long suffering,
abundant in goodness and truth" (Exodus 34:6) for example, or "mighty"
(Psalms 89:9), and the like .
But that seems incongruous, since G-d can't be depicted as He's
unfathomable . Besides, His actions themselves would seem to be beyond
description, since they’re so unlike our own. For, while our actions20are
offshoots of our personalities and makeup, and they always serve our
needs, G-d's actions are nothing of the sort. Rather than being Self-
serving, His actions are suited to us and our needs instead .
All we can claim to know about G-d Himself is that He exists, and that His
existence is imperative, but we can say nothing about Him per se .
In fact, we're actually warned not to fathom His essential being -- to
not “delve into things beyond (us) or to search out things hidden from
(us)” but to “dwell (instead) on what we're permitted to, rather than
contend with secret things” (Chagigah 13A; also see Ibid. 11b).
Besides, the truth of the matter is that whatever we’d say about G-d would
be irrelevant to His being, given that He’s wholly beyond our ken, out of
our experience, and is of a whole other order of being . And so it’s
said, “To whom will you liken Me? … says the Holy One” (Isaiah 40:25).
Despite His utter and intrinsic distinctiveness, He wanted to create the
world, to interact with it, and to share His benevolence with us within it
by (eventually) revealing His Yichud to us which we will bask in. So He
set up the aforementioned system of “rules and regulations” that we sit in
the midst of in order to do all that.
That means to say that He produced various “tools” that are not at all
necessary for His own needs which He uses to interact with us -- which He
could nonetheless replace or undo at will (in fact, G-d could very well
have chosen to express other profoundly and unfathomably different tools
here while interacting with us, but He chose not to), which we then
attribute names to .
The overarching point, though (as we’d indicated before) is that while
there seem to be different forces at work in the world at any one time, G-
d is in authority at all times and at each juncture despite His hidden-
ness and inscrutability , and that something of His Being can be
grasped, thanks to the tools He employs here. And the final point is that
whatever we know of Him is only as a consequence of those tools.
 See 1:4:1 where we discuss differentiating between G-d Himself and His
The “other angle” refers to the correlation between the subject of this
chapter and the idea of sephirot.
There’s a large dilemma involved in the subject at hand that comes to
this: if, as we’ll see later on in this chapter, G-d Himself is
unfathomable, then how can He be depicted at all? But if He can’t be
depicted, then how is the Torah to refer to Him and how can we speak of
Him whatsoever? And if we and the Torah can’t refer to Him, then how are
we to worship Him and draw close to Him, seeing how remote He would be
from our minds?
The truth of the matter is that the subject of G-d’s depictions has
concerned many of our greatest thinkers (see Moreh Nevuchim 1:56–60 for
example, and Chovot Halevovot 1:10). The Kabbalistic solution to the
problem lies in our being allowed to discuss the means G-d uses to
interact with the world -- His “tools”, if you will, which they termed His
sephirot -- rather than Him. For by understanding His tools, we understand
His methodology, and by understanding his methodology we understand
something=2 0of His thinking, which then helps explain something of Him.
The best classical text for a full treatment of the sephirot is R’ Yoseph
Gikatilla’s Sha’arei Orah. For references to sephirot in Ramchal’s works
see R’ Shriki (note 35), R’ Friedlander (p. 33) who draws our attention to
Klallim Rishonim 1 (also see his iyyun 11 p. 34 for other Ramchal
sources), and R’ Goldblatt (note 1 on p.77, note12 p. 474; also see his
analysis of the sequence of the next several chapters from a Kabbalistic
perspective at note 11 p.105). R’ Shriki (ibid.) also points out that
sephirot alluded to in other places in Da’at Tevunot: ¶’s 80, 156, and
elsewhere. See his notes 54 (pp. 93-94) and 126 (p. 226) as well.
 The truth is, G-d is depicted in many other ways, as well. He's said
to speak (Genesis 1:3), to see (Genesis 1:4), to occupy space (Ezekiel
3:12), to sit (Psalms 2:4), etc.
Another point to be made is that a major issue associated with depicting G-
d is that those descriptions make it seem as if He acts one way now and
another at another time -- as if He were very human, and was affected by
circumstances enough to need to change. But if G-d were indeed affected by
things so, then He'd be beholden to them and not omnipotent. He would also
be quite knowable. After all, it would be easy enou gh to keep track of
what would move Him in one direction or another to thus determine what
makes Him "tick" and ultimately to control Him. But that's entirely
preposterous since G-d is utterly unknowable and is indeed omnipotent (as
we’ll see). It thus becomes clear that the traits that G-d is depicted as
having are meant to speak to something else altogether. And that’s where
the Kabbalistic perspective spoken of above comes into play.
 See 1:3:2.
 See 1:2:4.
 See Derech Hashem 1:1:6 (based on Rambam’s Yesodei HaTorah Ch. 1) that
what one should understand about G-d is that He exists, that He’s perfect,
that His existence is imperative (i.e., that while He must exist if we and
everything in the universe is to exist, we and everything else needn’t
exist for Him to, since He’s beyond any needs and innately existent), that
He's utterly self-sufficient, that He's simple (i.e., essential and
unadorned), and that there's only one of Him. Also see ¶ 36 above.
See the following about our not being able or allowed to speak of G-d
Himself: Da’at Tevunot 80, Adir Bamarom p.59a, Ma’amar HaVichuach 44, and
Ma’amar Yichud HaYirah; also see the Vilna Gaon at the end of his
commentary to Sifra D’tzniutah, “Sod Hatzimtzum”; the beginning of HaRav
m’Fano’s Yonat Elim; Ramban’s introduction to his commentary to the Torah,
Tikkunei Zohar 17a (Petach Eliyahu), and Moreh Nevuchim 1:58-59.
 After all, among other things, G-d is the only entity not to have been
created. Just consider how radical a departure that fact is from reality
as we know it! It sets G-d apart from absolutely everything past, present,
and future; and other than His utter sublime, perfect, single, and simple
perfection, it's the most singularly important factor separating us from
 See Klach Pitchei Chochma 25, and ¶80 below.
 See 1:5.
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason
Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various
locations on the Web.